With the announcement that Vince Dooley has been named the winner of the Wooden Citizenship Cup, there was a flashback to a visit with the UCLA coach who won a record 10 NCAA basketball titles which is like Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak — unlikely to be broken.
It was a spring day in Los Angeles, and I had arranged through the UCLA Sports Information Office for an interview with Coach Wooden. A referral from Dooley obviously didn’t hurt my objective. I went out to Wooden’s apartment in the valley and spent a couple of hours with him, a memory to keep.
On my agenda was to review with the Indiana native was the fact that before he landed at UCLA in 1948, he was offered the basketball job at the University of Georgia. Coach Wallace Butts, who was also athletic director, invited Wooden to become the head basketball coach but he also wanted Wooden to work as an assistant in football.
Wooden remembered the offer. He didn’t remember much about Woodruff Hall, which was built in 1923 but would have been an adequate facility when Butts offered Wooden the job in the late ’40s.
“I was appreciative of Coach Butts’ offer to come to Georgia,” Wooden said, “but I don’t think that he really wanted me to coach the basketball team as much as he wanted me to recruit football players from the Midwest.”
Wooden declined Butts’ offer, later accepting an opportunity at UCLA where his success became legend.
The view here is that Wooden would be pleased that an award carrying his name is to be presented to Vincent Joseph Dooley in April. The Wooden Citizenship Cup is presented annually by “Athletes for a Better World.” Previous recipients include Jack Nicklaus, Pat Summitt, Drew Brees, Mia Hamm, Peyton Manning, John Smoltz, Adrea Yaeger, Shannon Miller and Cal Ripken Jr.
With the passing of time, Dooley has enjoyed a career of multi-interests, the centerpiece a deep and abiding interest in history. While he gave football coaching priority, never neglecting his responsibilities, he was never one dimensional. I have known a lot of fine coaches over the years, but some of them could do nothing more than coach.
On a trip to Pittsburgh in the fall there was an opportunity to visit with George Mihalik, the head football coach at Slippery Rock. Although he had not announced his retirement, he was in his final year of coaching. Mihalik was still teaching as he had been throughout his career. While it would be unthinkable in most circles, it makes one wonder how much better off college athletics would be if coaches were required to teach.
Throughout his professional career, Dooley has underscored pursuits beyond coaching. All too many people on the campuses across America fail to take advantage of the cultural opportunities which are available. Citizens in college communities are often reluctant to look beyond the sports teams and miss out on lectures and intellectual options. Dooley has tried to take advantage of as many activities as possible, enjoying a well-rounded life beyond football.
The former director of the University Libraries, the late Porter Kellum, in the summer of 1964, looked up one day and saw the new Bulldog coach browsing around the library. Kellum was initially taken aback. He was not expecting the football coach to show up at the library.
I remember writing a story about Dooley’s library interest for the Athens Banner-Herald. The Associated Press picked up the story and distributed it on its national sports wire which elicited considerable interest.
Dooley was quite chagrined since he was used to exploring the library as an undergraduate and later as a graduate student, earning a Masters degree in history while at Auburn.
Frank Howard, the colorful coach at Clemson, however, maintained the perspective of most coaches: “Tell Dooley,” Howard said, “the library will be a nice, cool place to hide out when the alumni get after him.”
Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.